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Georgia State War Veterans Homes to Charge Daily Fees
You may have heard that the state will soon start charging a reasonable fee for residency in our Georgia State War Veterans Homes (SVH) in Augusta and Milledgeville. Many have asked, “Why now?” The simple answer is, the Georgia General Assembly concluded that the state would need additional revenue sources, coupled with state appropriations and federal per diem payments, to fund care for our veterans. Since 1955, Georgia has been the only state not to charge veterans for skilled nursing care at SVHs. But with state revenues down over the past five years, providing free nursing home care to veterans is no longer practical or economically feasible. So, starting January 1, 2013, there will be a daily fee of $22.42, or approximately $682 per month, charged to veterans residing in the SVHs.
We have received calls of concern about this fee. The Georgia Department of Veterans Service does not intend to take money from a veteran who cannot afford to pay it. To the extent possible, the money is intended to come from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Aid and Attendance benefit. The VA’s A&A benefit, which is tax free income, is intended to assist veterans with their direct medical care costs. It is income based, and a veteran must have served in the armed forces in a federally-recognized period of wartime and received an “other than dishonorable discharge” from active duty.
Veterans residing in the SVHs receive medical care and services from the homes, and thus, most are eligible for the benefit. It is paid to eligible veterans who reside in the homes, not to the SVHs directly. Because the SVHs will now charge a fee, more veteran patients will be able to collect the VA’s A&A cash benefit and use that money to pay for a part of, or the entirety of, the fee. Consequently, the SVHs will be able to open more beds to serve the veterans of Georgia.
The local veterans’ service office at each SVH will assist veterans apply for the benefit. The earliest effective date for veterans to use the benefit to pay for medical expenses is January 1, 2013. Currently, claims filed with the VA are being processed in up to 18 months. If the VA approves a claim for a cash payment, it will send a back payment dated to the day the veteran filed the claim. However, if the veteran suffers hardship or a severe medical situation, then the VA may approve the claim in much less time.
All veteran patients must pay the fee. If the VA denies a veteran the A&A benefit because individual income from all sources is too high, that veteran will not be eligible to request a waiver. However, if the veteran is denied based on low income or dates of service, then the veteran may be able to request a waiver. The provision for requesting a waiver is based on the federal poverty level guidelines with income documentation. Veterans will need to request waivers annually.
The $22.42 daily fee for veteran patients is only nine percent of the average cost of $250 per day for private pay patients at community nursing homes across the state. The fee will also be tax deductible, as it can be claimed as a medical expense on federal and state income tax returns.
To date, the VA’s A&A benefit has been an untapped source of federal funds that can support the SVHs’ operations. The collection of fees will allow Georgia’s State War Veterans Homes in Augusta and Milledgeville to continue providing our veterans the highest quality of care they deserve with few interruptions and to open both facilities to even more veterans.
The Georgia Department of Veterans Service will hold two public meetings about the introduction of this daily fee on Thursday, October 4 in Milledgeville and Friday, October 5 in Augusta. The department also invites public comments at its Veterans Service Board meeting on Tuesday, October 30. Learn more about these meetings and how to submit your comments.
About the Author
Daniel D. “Dan” Holtz has been the Assistant Commissioner for Administration, Health and Memorials for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service since May 1, 2009. In this capacity he serves as the department’s chief fiscal officer and supervises budget development, support operations, the state veterans’ homes in Augusta and Milledgeville, the state veterans’ cemeteries in Glennville and Milledgeville, and the department’s construction and renovation program.
He served a 25-year career with the U.S. Air Force Medical Service Corps, rising to the rank of Colonel. During his military service, he served tours in Viet Nam and various stateside bases, as the commander of a medical treatment facility in Europe. He completed his military service at the Air Force Surgeon General’s Office in Washington and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs at the Pentagon. He retired from the military on September 1, 1991.
Mr. Holtz currently serves as the immediate past president of the Georgia Military Officers Association of America (GMOAA), the statewide affiliate of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA).
He and his wife, Linda, currently reside in Douglasville.